Hard Rock Hell Metal Birmingham, Day 1, 11th Febuary
A departure from the usual holiday camp madness as the HRH crew took over the O2 Academy in Birmingham for the weekend with a delicious line up of quality UK metal outfits. With the tickets organised, our first job was to locate accommodation and we hit the jackpot with the superb StayCity Aparthotels in Newhall, a mile from the venue. A stunningly well-appointed apartment suited our party down to the ground. Highly recommended.
Day 1 dawned with a bitterly cold wind and a smattering of snow on the ground. After a later breakfast, we headed to the O2 Academy where things were fully underway. Showsec security at the entrance were their usual miserable big city standard, with limited customer care skills on display. Take a trip to the Tramshed in Cardiff if you want to see how security should be done. However, the HRH team were as friendly and enthusiastic as always and we were soon into the inner parts of the venue. A small number of rock stalls flanked the main stage. The layout of the main arena is always a bone of contention with me, the usual bottle necks behind the sound desk, the bars and the merchandise all flowing into one exit which means that at certain times movement is restricted.
Having missed Bear Fist it was time for Red Rum (8) who never disappoint. The East Midlands outfit’s pirate themed metal is an acquired taste, but it’s a taste that most enjoy a soupcon of from time to time. These guys are a staple part of the HRH stable and the assembled throng were soon tapping and clapping along. The inevitable outbreak of dancing duly occurred with the appearance of the mandolin and their crazy cover of They're Taking The Hobbits To Isengard before the first pit of the day opened; a pit with a difference though as moshing was replaced by jigging. Yes folks, the jig pit was back. Red Rum, the heavy metal equivalent of The Pogues. Have a good time, all the time.
A quick sprint upstairs to the cooler arena 2 for local band Winter Storm, not to be confused with those German types of similar name (Winterstorm-Power Metal Ed). Led by Hannah, Winter Storm (7) battled valiantly with a muddy sound and some crippling nerves before they eventually relaxed to deliver a decent set which deserved a bigger audience. Their gothic style synths combined with a bucket load of riffs and Hannah’s powerful voice to create songs that are worthy of more attention. Just a shame about the mix.
Dropping into the bowels of the Academy to the small third arena it was time for some mayhem with up and coming stars AntiClone (6). Much has been made of these nu-metal upstarts who hail from the murder capital of the UK, yep, Boston, Lincs. With a rage born out of confidence and several massive endorsements from members of the metal community, the band were out of the traps in record time, kicking into tracks from their debut release The Root Of Man and quickly inciting the first wall of death of the weekend. If you like the chaos of Manson, Mudvayne, Korn and of course Des Moines’ finest then you’ll love this lot. I found them a little repetitive and whilst gimmicks are fine, the music needs to support it. Still, the committed didn’t need any invitation to join the action.
Back on the main stage the 1990s soon returned with the rage and political angst of Senser (8) whose riffs, rap and energy provided the first massive sound of the day and the first real OMG moment. A band that split and then reformed in 2009, Senser gained huge numbers of new fans with one of the performances of the weekend. Addictive, enticing and driven, the interplay between vocalists Heitham Al sayed and Kerstin Haigh was as strong as ever, whilst the thunder was brought with ease by James Barrett (Bass), Nick Michaelson (Guitar) and drummer Johnny Morgan. On the decks, Peter Crouch lookalike Andy Clinton never changed his focus as the industrial anthems cascaded around a rapidly filling arena. The band focused on their debut release, 1994’s Stacked Up which received massive approval from the masses. The mix of sounds and styles is always appreciated by the metal community and Senser were a quality dish on an already bursting menu.
A quick look at Exist Immortal (5) confirmed that the experimental Djent scene remains one of the least inviting for me. With another poor sound creating some difficulty to the listener, the band kicked off confidently but having a billion strings on your instruments doesn’t make up for a lack of inspiration in song writing. I’m sure many do appreciate the London based outfit but I found it an opportune time to head out to China Town for supper before the evening’s main event.
It’s been a few years since I’ve seen one of the most promising UK bands, Huddersfield’s Evile (9) but it was bloody worth the wait as Matt Drake and co blasted a huge hole in the arena’s circle pits with a show of confidence, maturity and most importantly promise. It’s been no secret that the band have struggled to maintain their momentum over recent times and the departure of lead guitarist Oli Drake left a huge void. No longer, as new man Piers Donno Fuller gave a faultless display in the art of shredding. With four albums worth of material to choose from there was no shortage of high quality tunes and Skull, In Memoriam, Enter The Grave and closer Thrasher really kept a high octane show a full blast. The band were tight, looked healthy and fit and a crammed arena roared their approval. In terms of shocks, Evile might have been the one of the weekend. In a totally good way.
Day one reached its climax with Newport’s finest, the always fantastic live Skindred (9) kicking Saturday into Sunday with 70 minutes of sheer class. A set littered with anthems, Trouble to Rat Race, Doom Riff to Sound The Siren kept the masses pumped and engaged. Fittingly for such turbulent times, main man Benji encouraged tolerance and peace with some eloquent words in his own ‘Port style. Alongside him, brutal riffs from Mikey Deemus and bassist Dan Pugsley mixed with the dubstep and ragga punk whilst Ayra Goggin as usual maintained the beat throughout. A poignant and emotional reflection on the loss of a friend with cancer allowed a pause in the mania with the acoustic Saying It Now before the inevitable Newport Helicopter during Warning brought a great day to an end.